Saturday, June 1, 2013

Maryland Deathfest 2013, Friday May 24

The last thing I wanted to be for my first day of MDF was late; but a gross miscalculation about the amount of traffic coming down from New York for Memorial Day weekend meant I was stuck in New Jersey for hours (tips for foreign visitors - whenever in doubt, blame Jersey). By the time I arrived in Baltimore, Benediction's set was long over. Somewhere, my vinyl copy of Subconscious Terror is judging me. I guess I can't get too bent out of shape for missing what I still think of as "Barney Greenway's old band," but I was still bummed, especially since I don't know if I'll ever get another chance to hear "The Grotesque" live.

Still, you can't argue with starting a 3 day metal festival with Pig Destroyer. The last time I saw them, I spent most of their set astounded by just how painfully loud they were. This time I was prepared with some heavy duty noise reduction earplugs. It didn't matter - no earplugs are a match for Pig Destroyer. At times it felt like Scott Hull's riffs were literally punching me in the throat. Though Jason from Misery Index and Katherine from Agoraphobic Nosebleed joining them on stage was pretty bad-ass, the highlight of the whole set was their keyboardist acting out the infamous last line of "Jennifer."

As I wandered over to the main stage to see Scott Carlson and Matt Olivo soundcheck, all I could think was, "Holy shit... Repulsion!" More than any other band on this year's line-up, Repulsion are responsible for the existence of death metal and, by extension, MDF. And when they kick things off with "The Stench of Burning Death," you realize why all those kids in Birmingham and Stockholm held Repulsion in such worshipful regard. The sound was slightly patchy in the beginning minutes of the set, but within a few songs leveled out to that classic 'burnt and rotten' tone. Carlson took both hecklers and die hard fans in stride with his dry one-liners: "How many people here are younger than, say, 32? We've been playing music longer than you've been alive." Responding to multiple song requests: "Don't worry, we'll play all your favourites. We only have one album." With one of the most important albums in the history of metal to draw on, Repulsion could have just coasted on songs from Horrified; so throwing in a cover of Venom's "Schizoid" was a nice touch. After the set as Olivo walked down the security barricade shaking hands and hugging kids, I still couldn't believe I just saw Repulsion. These guys should play every metal festival, every year.

Baltimore was particularly chilly this week-end, so when Napalm Death's Mitch Harris was playing with his old band Righteous Pigs, I was there front and centre, zipped tight in my hoodie. [You know the one]. Shane Embury recently played in Asia a few weeks back with Lock Up, so maybe one-off shows with side projects is as close as the Napalm guys get to a vacation (they started their Decibel tour the very next week). Even on a festival with reformed eighties thrashers and seventies drug casualties, there's something weirdly dated about Righteous Pigs, and not just because of the singer's Coolio dreadlocks. Witnessing their off-kilter take on crossover is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but halfway through I began to miss the straight-forward brutality of Mitch's day job. But maybe that's just because "they're my guys."

Expectations were impossibly high for Carcass, but these guys have been around since before "deathfests" were a thing. From the opening chords of "Buried Dreams" they had the crowd in their hands, and knew it: So confident, so commanding. They drew heavily from Heartwork, so clearly they know what side their bread is buttered on; but "Reek of Putrefaction" was the high water mark, if only because of how good Bill Steer's guttaral vocals are live. Despite its esteem with critics, the crowd's reaction to songs from Necroticism was muted, "Corporeal Jigsore Quandary" aside (Swansong fans, as few as they may be, were shit out of luck). Not that I'm complaining; kids were losing their shit throughout the set, and at 34 being crushed against the front has lost whatever appeal it used to have. Like Repulsion, Carcass were a band I never thought I'd see; and now I've seen them twice. If you ever hear me complaining about reunion tours, slap me.
Pelican following Carcass was a strange way to end Friday's MDF, something the band themselves were humble enough to acknowledge from the stage. That they were playing a "deathfest" at all was somewhat baffling to me, but that just shows how little I know - people were actually moshing, something I didn't think was possible with their slow instrumental music (I guess it goes without saying that the smell of weed hung thickly in the tent). They played two new songs due to be recorded the following week, and asked politely that their fans not put them online (yeah...good luck with that). With the light show in full "Laser Zepplin" mode, Pelican were the perfect come down from a day packed with grindcore OGs. Post-metal bliss.

Stray Bullets

The Wire is no joke. I saw cops take down locals no less than three times my first day in Baltimore. At first I assumed the increased police presence was to make the locals feel safe around the heshers; after a few days, I couldn't help feeling it was probably the other way around. Especially when a cop stopped me on the street only to tell me that my earplugs were hanging out of my pocket. "I wouldn't want something that went in my ears being dragged along the street!" he laughed. Meanwhile, I nearly pissed myself.

• Pig Destroyer and Righteous Pigs played the same stage. I'd like to think this wasn't a coincidence.

• I couldn't figure out why the name of Carcass' live guitarist Ben Ash was so familiar, before realizing that he's the guy who's been posting relentlessly on the Requiem Podcast facebook page. Why is a dude who's in Carcass stalking a couple of podcasters? Shouldn't it be the other way around? These are questions without answers. 

• I have an embarrassing story about spilling beer on Mitch Harris which is only my second most embarrassing Mitch Harris story. I was hoping to apologize and maybe buy him a beer after Righteous Pigs' set, but it's probably for the best that I didn't run into him at all. With my history, I might have accidentally set him on fire.

• I was enlisted by the dudes from Tools of the Trade on a mission to pass the Tools/CTK split to Scott Hull from Pig Destroyer. Trying to protect that record with one hand and take photos of Carcass with the other was like being in a John Woo movie.

• There was a dude who wore a chicken suit the entire week-end, even moshing and crowd surfing in the outfit. He was almost as popular at MDF as any of the bands that played.
• And somehow this happened:
Next: Bury me in smoke.